Microdosing psychedelic drugs could help boost creativity

A new trend has been capturing the attention of both scientists and the common Internet user, with researchers from the Netherlands finally starting to do the proper research needed to explore its full potential. As marijuana becomes decriminalized in more and more places and people of all ages are using drugs to help with pain both physical and mental, researchers have started looking into the science behind another drug-related treatment called microdosing.

Microdosing involves taking modest amounts of common psychedelic drugs, such as LSD or psilocybin — known informally as magic mushrooms. The amount microdosers take, which is about one-tenth of the dose needed for a “tripping effect,” is not large enough to cause vivid hallucinations or a strong rush of emotions, but those who have tried this trend claim that the small dosage is enough to provide several benefits to a regular person going about their day.

These benefits include a sharper mind, fewer intrusive or negative thoughts, higher creativity levels and lower levels of depression, just to name a few. The more attention microdosing receives, the more people are wondering whether this technique can help with both increasing productivity and combating the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

It was hard for scientists to fully test the effects of microdosing LSD or mushrooms, as these substances are illegal in many places, including the United States. In certain countries such as the Netherlands, however, drug use is becoming increasingly decriminalized, allowing scientists to start conducting research to either support or disprove the claims regarding microdosing.

The first study that suggests that microdosing psilocybin might help creativity was conducted by researchers in Leiden University, located in the Netherlands. Led by psychologist Bernhard Hommel, researchers had 38 participants from the Psychedelic Society of the Netherlands take three psychological tests before ingesting an average of 0.37 grams of dried mushrooms once and again 90 minutes after.

The first test was called the Picture Concept Task, in which participants saw three rows of pictures and had to choose a picture from each row so that all three pictures they chose were related to one another in some way.

The second test was the Alternative Uses Task, in which participants had to think of alternate uses for a common item such as a pen. Finally, the participants took a progressive matrices test, in which they saw patterns made from two-by-two or three-by-three blocks and had to choose which block would correctly fill in the blank in the pattern.

The first two tests were measures of creativity, while the third measured fluid intelligence, or “problem-solving, rational-thinking, and abstract-reasoning ability,” as defined by the science and health media website STAT. The creativity tests measured convergent and divergent thinking, respectively. Convergent thinking requires conceptual thinking and connecting abstract ideas in order to find a single solution to a problem. Divergent thinking requires being able to analyze numerous possibilities and solutions at once in order to solve problems or create new ideas.

The study found that participants did better on both creativity tests after taking a microdose of psilocybin, but their scores on the fluid intelligence test were largely unaffected. The study did not feature a control group that took the tests without microdosing, however, so the results might have improved just from the participants already being familiar with the tests when they took them the second time.

The scientists still concluded that microdosing on mushrooms “allowed participants to create more out-of-the-box alternative solutions for a problem,” which is in line with what frequent microdosers report happens as they try to bring more creativity to their work.

Even though further testing must be done to examine the health effects of microdosing and to confirm whether psilocybin can help combat both depression and procrastination, these initial tests can coax more governments to get on board with allowing microdosing if it is done for research purposes, possibly legalizing it completely in the future.